There are some who believe that if someone is in a subsequent marriage after a divorce, they must divorce again in order to repent. As we will see in this article, this belief is contrary to the Bible. If someone wants to affirm that repentance for subsequent marriages after unlawful divorces would necessitate another divorce, then they would be obligated to prove such.
There is no biblical evidence that a divorce was ever required in order to repent of a marriage entered into after an unlawful divorce. The fact that there is no instruction under the New Law for anyone to ever divorce in order to repent on the basis of being in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce becomes even stronger when considering the context.
Divorce (for any reason) and remarriage were extremely common during the first century and the surrounding centuries. In fact, it can be proven that many, if not the majority, of the Jews and Romans were divorcing and remarrying. Many Jewish and Roman males and females would have been unlawfully divorced by Jesus’ standards and remarried at least once (if not multiple times). This is not a debatable point, but a biblical and historical fact.
If indeed a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce required further divorce, why is there no evidence of such? David Instone-Brewer, a Rabbinics scholar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, put it this way:
“There is nothing to suggest that Jesus asked anyone to separate from the second husband or wife if one remarried after an invalid divorce” (Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Marriage in the Bible, pg. 152, 183). “…remarriage after divorce was a fundamental right in the first-century world, and it was often regarded as an obligation. Thus, the New Testament writers knew that they would have to enunciate their teaching extremely clearly and unambiguously if they wanted to teach the opposite of this universally held view” (ibid., p, 299).
There is not a single time that we read of anyone under the New Law being told to get out of their current marriage in order to repent on the basis of being in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce. This is absent from the Scriptures, absent from any Jewish writings, absent from any Roman writings, absent from any antagonistic writings and absent from any early church writings. Due to the cultural and societal circumstances, certainly there would be something written about this if the Christian movement was causing a score of divorces (or if they were teaching others that they had to divorce in order to repent). Yet, there is no evidence.
Aside from there being no evidence, several fundamental questions could be raised. For example, if it was the case that one had to divorce in order to repent of a subsequent marriage, would that mean that those who had remarried after an unlawful divorce under the Old Law had to divorce their spouse as soon as Jesus began correctly teaching on marriage and divorce? Could one, who had remarried before Jesus began teaching on marriage remain remarried when the New Covenant was established? Would every Jew on Pentecost in Acts 2 who had remarried after an unlawful divorce under the Old Law, have to divorce their spouse they had remarried in order to repent? The fact of the matter is that there is no historical or biblical evidence of anyone being told to leave their subsequent marriage in order to repent.
The reason Jesus gave the command on marriage and divorce was to put a stop to divorce, not propagate it. If repentance demanded further divorce in the case of a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce, then this understanding has Jesus’ teaching resulting in the very opposite of what it was meant to do in the first place.
We should always look at Scripture as a whole. What did Paul tell those who were married? He told them not to divorce (1 Cor. 7:10). He didn’t say, “to those who are in their first marriage…” Keep in mind, Paul was writing to the epicenter of immorality. Both Paul and Jesus admonished and commanded that the married stay married and not divorce. The number of marriages one had at that time didn’t negate or null the fact that their current marriage was still a real marriage (e.g., Jn. 4:18).
God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Telling individuals that God wants them to divorce in order to repent of their divorce is like telling a murderer to murder more in order to repent of their murder or telling a man to steal in order to repent of stealing.
You don’t repent of doing something by doing more of it. You repent by ceasing the action. Jesus was trying to put a stop to divorce, not propagate further divorce in subsequent marriages.
– Kevin Pendergrass
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